I typed Death of a Teacher into a Google Search bar.
I didn’t know what else to do.
I don’t know what I expected to appear. Did I expect the internet to magically help me?
Everything was happening so suddenly. One moment I hear that my friend’s husband, a teacher I work with, is in the hospital and very sick. The next he is gone. He was young. He was happy. He had a beautiful wife and two young children he loved. He was a teacher, a chef, a friend. He was funny, dedicated, and a story teller. Most of all, he was loved.
What about his students?
We can’t just call a sub. We can’t let them have a stranger in there while they process what just happened. Who is going to take care of them?
I asked my principal if I could cancel my intervention classes and be in his 6th grade math classroom. I wanted them to have a familiar face with them. His wife and I had taught 2nd grade to many of his students and I wanted to take care of them.
Phone calls were made to all the families of the sixth graders to let them know what happened. The district provided counselors and a script to read as we started the day. I met with our principal and the other sixth grade teachers and we made the best plans we could.
But, there I was, the night before entering his classroom googling Death of a Teacher.
As students started to arrive, some walked right in. Some stopped unsure about entering his classroom. Some wandered over to his desk and looked at pictures of his family. The counselor tried to start a group discussion but there was an awkward silence.
One of the things that I had read in my late night Google search was that it is important to provide a choice for someone who is grieving. When sadness makes you feel like you have no control, just small choices give you a little bit of power back.
I told the students that I had made a variety of copies for them to choose from. There were pattern coloring pages, word searches, and math papers. They could get any of those to work on.
As students began coloring, the room began to buzz. I went and sat with tables for a while and kids asked questions and shared memories. Eventually those led into whole class discussions.
It became clear that these preteens were afraid they were going to say the wrong thing or act the wrong way. We talked about grief. We talked about how some people like to be left alone and some people like to talk. How sometimes you start crying out of the blue and sometimes you laugh. We talked about phrases we could use like, “Do you want to talk or be left alone?” Mostly, we talked about their teacher and how much they loved and appreciated him.
His name was Mr. Bunker.
One of the students said she wanted to make Mr. Bunker the Cool Kid for the week. She explained that each week, he brought up a student and wrote on the board whatever people had to share about them. She agreed to lead the activity. She wrote his name across the board and students began to share amazing stories about Mr. Bunker.
I spent a week in his room and I learned a lot from him through the stories kids shared.
I also learned a lot about being a teacher.
I learned that our routines we establish in class are import to our students.
I learned that kids want to know us. They loved stories we share about our real life.
I learned that our students appreciate and recognize our uniqueness more than we know.
I learned a lot about THOSE kids. You know, the ones, you think aren’t listening. The ones you worry aren’t getting it. The ones you tell your coworkers and spouse stories about. The ones you feel like you will never get through to.
I learned that those kids were listening. They can quote you word for word. They know how much patience it took to work with them. They see the extra attention you give them. They know you care. They make treks from other schools when they hear your gone just to look at your classroom. They write heartfelt apologies for the way they treated you.
They will be better for having known you. Even if you are positive they haven’t heard a word you’ve said.
They love you. They appreciate you.
The ones that don’t write cards. The ones that don’t say it. You mean more to them than you will ever know.